In Father Richard McBrien’s recent column, “Workers’ rights deserve bishops’ defense,” he references Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum novarum (Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor). This brilliant encyclical, which is the foundation of Catholic social teaching, is frequently selectively quoted by liberal theologians.
In reading some interpretations of Rerum novarum, one would think it was written by Karl Marx himself. I would encourage everyone to read the actual document. It is easy to find and free to read on the Vatican’s website. Here is a sample that you don’t see quoted very often:
“To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer.”
Pope Leo XIII does an excellent job outlining the duties of both labor and employer in a common sense manner. This encyclical needs to be read in its entirety and not selectively quoted to advance a political agenda.